Chapter One: James Sheldon

It’s a bitterly cold Tuesday afternoon in October. I can feel the temperature dropping as the dark shades of evening descend, and to add to my misery, it’s started raining.

I’m sitting in a grubby shop doorway on Sidney Street with a sign saying ‘Homeless. Please help.’ crudely written on a piece of brown cardboard and my green woolly hat is upside down in front of me. I’m desperately hoping someone will add to the eighty pence I have to show from being here for the past three hours. Every time someone walks near, I ask politely, “Spare some change, please?”

I guess on a grey day like this no one wants to spend time fumbling through their pockets or bags to find loose change.

I’m surprised when a man stops in front of me. He looks every inch a successful businessman. I’ve seen enough Italian handmade shoes to recognise they must have cost upwards of £500. I can tell he’s expensively dressed as he’s short in stature and somewhat overweight, yet his blue suit fits him perfectly. It’s obviously made to measure. The small pin badge on his jacket lapel reveals he’s a member of the local small business association. At a guess, I’d put him in his mid-fifties.

He puts down the large package he’s carrying and smiles at me. “Let’s see what I’ve got,” he says, as he puts his hand into his trouser pocket. From his rough accent, you wouldn’t know he’s got money.

He pulls out a silver clip and peels off a twenty-pound note. I can hardly believe my luck. He bends forward to hand it to me and then suddenly takes it back, produces a lighter from his pocket, and burns the note right in front of me. “There we go. You wanted change. I’ve changed the cash into ashes.” With that, he picks up his package and walks off, laughing loudly to himself.

I guess a lot of people would say “serves you right.” After all, to them, I’m just a dirty, smelly, homeless tramp. “Get a job” is the most common comment I hear.

But things haven’t always been as bad as this.

If you’d asked me eighteen months ago what life was like I’d have given you a big smile and told you it wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn close. Back then I had a gorgeous wife, two lovely kids, a beautiful house and a challenging career which I really enjoyed. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Then came the day my nightmare began.

I remember it was a beautiful spring morning and I was at home enjoying a rare day off from work. Many of the flowerbeds were just coming into bloom. I’d been pottering around in the garden and mowing the lawn and by the time I locked the mower back in the shed, it was close to lunchtime.

I made myself a cheese sandwich and a coffee and sat down to watch the midday TV news. I was sad when they announced that blues legend B.B. King had died, so I turned off the TV, played my B.B. King & Friends album and drifted away into a world of my own, letting the brilliance of the guitar playing send shivers down my spine.

I was expecting my wife, Miriam, and our two kids, Jack, aged six and Abigail, three, back after a few days visiting her parents, when there was a knock at the front door. I thought perhaps Miriam must have mislaid her keys, as she often did, or maybe Jack had run ahead from the car to give me a hug, but the moment I opened the door I knew something was wrong.

A fresh-faced uniformed police officer, probably aged around twenty-one, stood there, and standing by his side was a woman in plain clothes. I would have put her in her early thirties, around the same age as my wife. Usually in such circumstances, as a law-abiding citizen, you try to recall when you had been speeding or whether your car was taxed.

The lady spoke. “Hello, sir. Are you Mr James Sheldon?”

I managed to nod.

“We haven’t met before. I’m Carla Parsons. I’m the new DS, just transferred yesterday from Derby. I’m afraid we’re here with bad news.”

When you’re a serving detective with the local police force, you immediately know this has nothing to do with a minor traffic offence.

Even with all my experience of dealing with horrific crimes, such as armed robberies and serious assault, and having been in the position of telling people, their loved ones had been hurt or worse, when it happened it still cut into me like a hot knife. All the training I’d received went out the window.

Suddenly, instead of kissing my lovely wife and hugging my kids, I was thinking about how you arrange three funerals.

They told me that according to an eyewitness, all three were hit by a blue BMW as they collected some shopping to stock up after my three days of ready meals for one.

Of course, they gave me time off for compassionate leave, even though it meant the investigation into local council corruption, which I was about to lead, would be passed onto another over-worked detective.

After the funerals, and all the relatives and friends had said their words of comfort, I was left to face the world – without the people who were my world: My son Jack. When I wasn’t working on a weekend we’d play football in the garden.

I recall taking him to his first football match. I wanted to make it special, so I took him to the Birmingham-v-Leicester match. We watched an exciting game with the away team scoring the winning goal inside injury time. The final score was 3-2.

My darling little Abigail, with her golden hair, just like her mother’s. A real daddy’s girl, and that big smile. If only she’d had the chance to grow into a teenager she would have broken quite a few hearts.

And my beautiful Miriam, the girl of my dreams. We met when we were at university and I knew she was the one for me the first time I saw her.

When she died, she was only thirty-three and we had planned to have another child when the time was right.

After mowing them down the bastard just drove off.

Whoever it was, I hope they rot in hell.


Chapter Two: Dave Rex

As the jet flies above the clouds into the night sky, Dave Rex is enjoying his comfy seat with the ample amount of legroom which comes as standard when you fly executive class.

After a nightmare of a day, he begins to relax for what seems like the first time in ages. With the gentle whoosh, yet assuring power of the engines, and the glass of wine by his side, Dave thinks back over the years to where he had started from and where he is now.

Like his late father, he’s been a career criminal since the day he could move his arm high enough to pick someone’s pocket. Before he passed away, Dave’s father taught him all about a life of crime, giving him advice such as ‘Never give a sucker an even break. Never feel sorry for anyone and always look after number one.’

In his early life, Dave started out selling dodgy motors, then moved into selling fake designer goods and finally to dealing in cannabis and soft drugs. Things hadn’t always gone according to plan as over the years he’d been arrested for a number of crimes including burglary, robbery, assault, arson and drug dealing. In truth, it’s a much longer list, but luckily for Dave, the evidence wasn’t strong enough on many occasions.

Twelve years ago, he started selling cannabis and the real money came in. Things had gone well for two years until he got caught up in a police sting operation and was found with drugs in his car. When the case went to court, he was convicted of supplying drugs, but his highly paid and skilful barrister managed to persuade the judge that it really wasn’t his client’s fault and, if given this ‘very last chance’, Dave would change his ways. He got away with a two-year suspended sentence.

So Dave has never yet enjoyed the delights of prison food. Not that it would change him. It’s far easier to make money illegally than to carve out an honest living. Crime does pay. In fact, it pays extremely well…

After such a close encounter, he vowed it would be the last time the police would be able to pin anything on him. He decided that in future he would find other people to carry the drugs for him. If someone was going to get caught it certainly wasn’t going to be him.

As things progressed he’d moved up the chain from selling to street dealers and had started buying in larger quantities and selling to the local wholesalers. Then after four years, in response to his customers’ repeated requests for harder drugs, he found a London contact and that’s when his illegal activities really took off.

His problem was that all his cash income needed to be laundered and turned into clean money if he didn’t want to attract attention from the police and the taxman.

His London contacts had offered him advice so over the years he’d opened three legitimate businesses to make it look like these gave him the income to support his luxurious lifestyle…

Dave’s thoughts are interrupted by the voice of the air stewardess as she brings him his meal. Rushing around all day, he hasn’t had time to eat properly so he is happy to see her standing there with his order of spicy Green Thai curry and his second glass of wine.

Thinking about his meal, Dave is reminded how a few years back a friend had told him how much money could be made in the food business. So when he heard about a takeaway kebab shop where the owner wanted a fast cash sale, a quick deal was done. To help promote the business, he had people put large posters all the way along Mill Road. A rival takeaway owner made the mistake of threatening to tear them down, so the first thing Dave did was to smash his rival’s shop windows after they had closed for the night.

When this failed to stop the owner of Tasty Kebabs from complaining, Dave visited his shop in the early hours of the morning, ran a hose through the letterbox, poured petrol in and set light to it. Luckily a passer-by noticed the fire and dialled 999.

In his report to the police, the Fire Brigade Chief stated that ‘It was a miracle none of the people in the upstairs flat were killed or seriously injured.’ In his notes, he detailed that ‘Five minutes later and there would have been fatalities.’

That same night, the shop owner received a note through the letterbox of his home saying, “Keep quiet or your house will be next.” He was too frightened to go to the police.

A similar thing happened with Dave’s first business, Trent Taxis when he got his control room to listen in on the radio calls of his main rivals, Cresta Cabs and sent his taxis to arrive before theirs to steal their fares.

When the two brothers who ran Cresta went to see Dave about this, he and three of his accomplices beat them up, put them in the boot of an old taxi, and ceremoniously dumped them, battered and bruised, on the pavement outside their own taxi office.

The next day, Dave phoned them and made an offer to buy their business for half its true value. When they refused to do so, they started getting messages from an untraceable pay-as-you-go mobile with photos of their wives and children saying things like, “Whoops. Almost ran over your daughter as she left school today.”

After two weeks of constant messages and late night silent phone calls to their homes, the two brothers had enough and sold the business to Dave.

A traffic warden who had once given him a ticket was attacked the next day. Someone came at the man from behind, put an iron bar across his head, and then jumped on his knees.

Two years later, he is still recovering and unlikely to ever work again.

Dave was questioned about the incident but a lack of evidence meant he could not be charged. He had an alibi: he was with three friends on their way to the races. The ‘friends’ were quite happy to lie about it in court. It made for a good laugh in the pub afterwards.

Dave is aware he is dreaming again. The plane is due to land in less than fifteen minutes. As he sips his glass of wine, he allows himself a smile about his third business – purchasing a launderette to help launder the cash generated from his drug-dealing operation. The irony isn’t lost on him.

As he finishes his wine, he thinks about the moment the plane will start its descent into the airport from where he will make his way to his beautiful villa in La Manga. He can relax now.

Once he’s had a good night’s rest and spent some time soaking up the sun he will set about thinking up new ways to ensure the tax authorities and police believe the top-of-the-range Mercedes, the luxury foreign villa and the expensive lifestyle are funded entirely from his honest endeavours.

It is a nice problem to have but Dave needs to find places to hide the ever-increasing amounts of cash coming in from his expanding drug dealing and prostitution ring. Dave Rex, once just a petty crook, is now a player in the big league, and he has even more ambitious plans for the future.

And woe betide anyone who gets in his way.